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Old Faithful

If the summer movie season is our annual time for escapism, last summer's audiences escaped most often with the likes of Hulk, Terminator 3, and The Matrix Reloaded. Those titles, respectively, ended in a homeless and penniless hero, the end of life on Earth as we know it, and our messianic figure sent into a coma. Was this really the entertainment we sought? Turn on CNN and you can get your apocalyptic images for the price of basic cable -- who needs it at the multiplex as well?

Of course, it takes about two years for the average movie to go from concept to completion, which perhaps is why this summer -- two-plus years removed from 9/11 -- our movies skew heavily toward nostalgia. The attacks made many people long for simpler, safer times, and Hollywood is delivering; in the coming months, the retro machine will be cranked up to virtually every decade from the past century:

From the 1930s, Universal revives its classic monsters in the all-out melee Van Helsing, while Kevin Kline does Cole Porter in De-Lovely.

From the '50s, Isaac Asimov's classic sci-fi novel I, Robot gets its first big-screen adaptation, as does Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder" (as the Pierce Brosnan vehicle Sounds of Thunder), which arguably inspired previous films as diverse as Jurassic Park and The Butterfly Effect.

The '60s gave us John Frankenheimer's original Manchurian Candidate, newly updated this year by Jonathan Demme. In the U.K., the same decade produced the marionette-populated TV series Thunderbirds, now headed for a live-action remake starring the equally wooden Bill Paxton.

From the '70s, we get a remade Stepford Wives and a look at Melvin Van Peebles circa 1971 in Baadasssss!

Updating mainstream '80s comedies with black actors is something of a trend these days, so on the heels of Love Don't Cost a Thing and Johnson Family Vacation, we get the Airplane! update Soul Plane. Garfield, the fat feline who hasn't actually been funny since the '80s, finally gets his own movie too -- as an inadvertently terrifying, computer-generated feline voiced by Bill Murray.

Channeling multiple decades is the latest update of the oft-filmed Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days, which worked best in 1963, when it was rendered by the Three Stooges.

Then there's director Roland Emmerich, who's double-dipping backward with the climate-change disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, a nod to both 1970s disaster movies and the late-'90s revival of same (Volcano, Deep Impact). Emmerich has pretty much built a career on trashing major American cities on-screen (Independence Day, Godzilla), so if you like what he did before but would prefer to see it without monsters, you're all set (that buried Statue of Liberty on the poster is looking mighty familiar too).

Other directors are looking well beyond the past 100 years: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) reaches all the way back to the Sixth Century for his allegedly realistic look at King Arthur, while Wolfgang Petersen gets his inspiration from Homer for the ancient Greek war movie Troy.

Of course, it wouldn't be summer without a spate of sequels -- and two of the biggest, Shrek 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, will have touched down by just after Memorial Day. Other, longer-in-the-pipeline franchise expansions will also come to fruition: Ever since 1992's Batman Returns, there's been talk of a stand-alone Catwoman feature; it's finally here -- albeit not in the form fans were no doubt expecting. The reptilian Rastafarian hunters from another world make a third cinematic bow in Alien vs. Predator, which serves as both sequel to 1990's Predator 2 and prequel to 1979's Alien. And Pitch Black, the 2000 appropriation of Aliens that helped make Vin Diesel a star, gets a second installment this year with David Twohy's The Chronicles of Riddick, pitting Diesel opposite unlikely costar Judi Dench. Fans of unlikely royalty (The Princess Diaries 2) and an arachnid superhero (Spider-Man 2) will also get their fill.

The following previews some of the upcoming summer movies, from projected blockbusters sure to be accompanied by Happy Meal tie-ins to obscure documentaries that wield considerable promise. All dates are subject to change, and inevitably some of them will:

Alien vs. Predator

Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, and some big ugly meanies from outer space

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writers: Paul W.S. Anderson, Shane Salerno, Peter Briggs

Premise: Titular franchise thingies battle each other in Antarctica while humans stupidly interfere.

Outlook: After two pointless placeholder sequels, at least the Aliens finally get to do something on Earth. Their interactions with the Predator species are sure to fuel many a comic-geek debate, but whoever wins, the human actors are brave to participate. Note: Director Anderson did Resident Evil (and its star, Milla Jovovich) and is not "that Magnolia guy."

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Luke Y. Thompson
Contact: Luke Y. Thompson

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